LONDON, Jan 19 — The Collins English dictionary made “NFT” its word of the year. But British children and teenagers have another one. It’s the word “anxiety.” This choice illustrates the considerable impact of the health crisis on the mental health of young people.

For more than a decade, experts and academic researchers at Oxford University Press have been analyzing the evolution of children’s language and how it is used to reflect their emotions and experiences. In response to the pandemic and the scale of its impact on their lives, they decided to survey 8,000 children and teenagers in 85 schools across the UK. They were asked to choose the main words they would use to talk about their health and well-being. Nearly a quarter of them feel that the word “anxiety” best reflects their current state of mind. It is closely followed by “challenging” and “isolate.”

It’s concerning that “anxiety” is the number one word, but that’s not surprising considering all the restrictions and changes children have had to endure. “Our 2021 Good Childhood report found that most children have shown great resilience and thought that they had coped relatively well with the upheaval and disruption Covid brought, but, worryingly, 8 per cent (nearly 1 in 12) of 10- to 17-year-olds reported that they had coped less well with the changes to life,” said Joe Jenkins of The Children’s Society in a statement

New words for a new reality

However, some British children and adolescents selected more positive words to describe their mood after another year of the pandemic. These included “wellbeing” and “resilience.” They were cited by 13 per cent and 12 per cent of respondents respectively.

In addition, these terms are particularly used by British teachers to talk to their students about the pandemic. One third of teachers used the word “resilience” most often in their lessons. “Challenging” and “wellbeing” were also used frequently in conversation.

And they’re not the only ones: the health crisis has encouraged new words to appear in the vocabulary of young Britons, such as “lockdown.” Helen Freeman, director of Early Childhood & Home Education at Oxford University Press, says teachers need to pay particular attention to the vocabulary they use in the classroom to support their students’ wellbeing in this difficult environment.

“It is important now, more than ever, that we invest in supporting children’s language development at home and in school. The findings demonstrate the role we all play in making sure children have the words they need to be able to express themselves and that, as adults, we are aware that the language we use around children can significantly influence their learning and wellbeing,” she explained. — ETX Studio